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  • Writer's pictureColleen Nelson

Let's Get Dirty

Soil is the foundation to everything you plan to grow in your garden. Before you start planting you want to make sure your soil is healthy and can nurture your ornamental plants and vegetables. These tips should help you determine if your soil is primed for planting season or if you need to help it along for the coming season.

Testing Soil

You can evaluate your soil with a Soil Test Kit. These can be found online or in your local garden center. You want a test that can measure pH as well as the macronutrients your plants will need – nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Some tests can also tell you about the amount of other minerals. Below are the ideal readings:

pH balance: 6.5 – 6.8, too high or too low will prevent the plants from absorbing any nutrients in the soil.

Nitrogen: 25 - 50ppm, too high and the plant will grow too big with succulent shoots and attract unwanted insects and mites. Too Low and the plants will grow slow, and leaves will yellow quickly.

Phosphorus: 25 – 50ppm, too high and the plants growth will be stunted. Too low and the leaves can be curled and have dieback.

Potassium: 40 – 80ppm, too high and your soil will not drain correctly in some cases the soil will not absorb water below the surface. Too low and your plants will be less resistant to extreme weather changes.

To boost nitrogen is blood meal. To boost phosphorus is bone meal. To boost potassium, add food-based compost.

Understanding Type

There are three main components to soil; clay, sand, and slit. Having the right mixture of these components are critical in balancing the air flow, water absorption and drainage, and the root growth. Understanding how to identify and work this your soil type is below:

Clay: Feels slippery and sticky when wet. When there is too much clay the plants will not grow as they cannot get enough air or water. Water will run quickly, and the plants will not be able to absorb the necessary nutrients.

Sand: Feels gritty. When there is too much sand the water runs through the soil preventing plants from absorbing nutrients. When there is too little sand the plants will not get enough water or air.

Silt: Feels powdery when dry and slippery when wet. When there is too much silt the soil can hold water for too long which could lead to root rot. When there is too little silt the soil can struggle to get enough water from the soil.

Finding the right balance between these three substrates will ensure your plants have the environment. You want your soil to be powdery and gritty. You want to feel slipper and bit sticky when wet but you should also feel the grit from the sand.

Before you start planting get to know what is going on in each of your garden beds. Based on the amount of natural air flow, water drainage, and sun exposure you will find that each bed may have its own nutrients and types. Dig deep and test your soil before you plant your heart’s desire.

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